Sunday, July 18, 2010

attitudes to poetry part two:The Stinging fly and Bunting.

From Dave Lordan’s review of “identity Parade: New British and Irish poets” in the Stinging Fly issue 16/volume two summer 2010-07-18

The poems here are nearly all beautiful in the sense that they are very well-sculpted and clearly and sonorously expressed. Sometimes, however when confronted with such apparent technical faultlessness I am put in mind of Ron Silliman’s question of ‘what is more deadly than a poem that seeks to be told it’s beautiful?’ What I find lacking are formal and thematic reflections of our commonly experienced fragmentation , confusion, disturbance, upset, instability and insecurity. By and large the senses of all prevailing danger, irredeemable human failure and imminent total disaster that characterise the zeitgeist are not well communicated here…” (p123)
“Our commonly experienced….”
[resist the urge to list all the things that are more deadly than a poem….]

The eerie near total absence of political poetry in our era of neo-imperialism, neo-liberalism and climate change is also deeply troubling, but not suprising. The cultural and intellectual scene overall is far less radical and interesting than it was even twenty years ago and it apt that the general retreat from commitment and strong ideas and concurrently from passion, risk and invention, should be reflected in poetry. (p123)

“The general retreat from commitment and strong ideas…..”

Compare with Bunting, replying to this request (Poetry 1972):

I wish to publish a special issue of Poetry protesting the acceleration of the undeclared Indo-Chinese War and shall be grateful to consider any poem on this terrible and topical subject that you might wish to contribute as soon as possible. I am not an American citizen , but this is not an American issue. IT is of global importance.
Poetry is a matter of life and death.
Daryl Hine

Bunting replied:
Poetry does not seem to me to have any business with politics. Whatever thoughts the war in Vietnam puts into my head, they are not as could be well expressed in verse. …
There’s not a soul who cares twopence what I or any other poet thinks about the war, Nixon, Wallace, marijuana, pills, oil spills, detergent advertisements or the fog from Gary. We are experts on nothing but the arrangements and patterns of vowels and consonants, and every time we shout about something else we increase the contempt the public has for us. We are entitled to the same voice as anybody else with the vote, no more. To claim more is arrogant.
So I won’t be contributing to your special issue.

in a short talk that prefaced the reading he gave at Keats' House in 1979 Bunting said:

Poetry hampers itself when it undertakes advocacy, however indirectly… Poetry that advocates obscurantism, or on the other hand naïve slogans of liberalism is a nuisance to everybody who can read. What I have tried to do is to make something that can stand by itself and last a little while without having to be propped up by metaphysics or ideology or anything from outside itself; something that might give people pleasure without nagging them to pay their dues to the party or say their prayers.
It’s brought me just what I expected from the first: nothing….and after sixty years of fairly good work without pay I haven’t even a house of my own to die in.

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